What is the Difference Between Computer Science and Computer Information Systems Majors?

Computer Science Degrees

While computer science and computer information systems sound one in the same, they aren’t. In fact, computer science and computer information systems are two different industries with two different knowledge bases. Essentially, computer science (CS) studies the why, and computer information systems (CIS) studies the how. For students interested in pursuing technology careers, it’s important to know this difference.

Computer Science

Computer science grew out of the the mathematics and electrical engineering disciplines. It involves the design and development of all types of software from operating systems and phone apps to interactive games and other forms of interactive technology. While the outcome may be something interactive and fun, a CS major must have a strong background in mathematics and creative problem solving. Basically, CS majors study what makes computers work and how they process data. Below are just a few of the many topics a CS major can expect to study:

  • Computer Graphics
  • Computer Programming
  • Database Organization
  • Data Mining
  • Data Structures and Algorithms
  • Mobile Software Development
  • Systems Programming
  • Theory of Computation

The computer science major focuses heavily on the study of programming (such as Java or C++), data structures, and operating systems. As a result, many CS graduates pursue careers in programming and software development. Other job titles may include:

  • Computer Hardware Engineer
  • Computer Support Specialist
  • Computer Systems Analyst
  • Computer and Information Research Scientist
  • Data Administrator

Computer Information Systems

Computer information systems is a different field altogether, focusing on how data is gathered, stored, and transformed into information. In a nutshell, CIS professionals are responsible for setting up information systems at a given organization. They provide technical support and help integrate proven security solutions into complex information systems. A CIS major can expect to study the following topics:

  • Advanced Productivity Software
  • Application Programming
  • Database Management Systems
  • Database Structures
  • Design of Information Systems
  • Security and Privacy of Information and Information Systems
  • Systems Design

A CIS major can also expect to take a few business classes as well as upper-level computer science courses. Graduates are expected to achieve competency in problem-solving, systems development, and data communications. As a result, many CIS graduates pursue careers as system analysts and desk specialists. Other job titles may include:

  • Computer Network Architects
  • Computer Programmer
  • Information Security Analysts
  • Network Systems Administrator
  • Software Developer

How to Choose Between CS and CIS

Perhaps you still need more guidance in deciding which field is right for you. Consider these traits, skill sets, and expectations when determining which is right for you:

  • Computer Science. If you’re going into a computer science degree, you need to expect to study advanced mathematics, up to calculus 2 and 3. You will gain a deeper understanding of programming languages, and be able to critically analyze problems, and develop effective long term solutions. You will learn not just how to write code, but understand why code works the way it does.
  • Computer Information Systems. CIS offers a more broad, “big picture” perspective of the coding world, going less in depth than a computer science program would. There is more emphasis on how computer systems can help an organization, and this degree program may be intended for someone equally as interested in business and project management as they are in writing code.

The general consensus is that CS will be more intensive but will offer a deeper understanding of code. CIS will give you a broad background, but is intended for those that would want to become systems administrator as opposed to someone who will hard-code all day. If you’re still not sure what major is right for you, perhaps shadow a professional in each field to get a better sense of the work you’d like to do. Both fields are fairly competitive, but with a degree and perhaps an internship or two, a job with great earning potential and room for growth awaits. For additional information, check out the sites listed below:

Tech Schools and Computer/IT Degrees

DeVry University AA: Network Systems Admin
BS: Computer Info Systems
BS: Computer Eng Tech
DeVry University - DeVry University is the largest technical school in the country with almost 90 campuses in the US and is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Many of the programs are available entirely online including the BS in Computer Engineering Technology and the AAS in Network Systems Administration, but this is just the tip of the iceberg in DeVry's offering.
Kaplan University AAS: IT
BS: IT/Information Systems
MS: IT
Kaplan University - Kaplan University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and is one of the largest schools in the US. While not strictly a technical school, they do offer dozens of degrees in the field of technology like the AAS, BS, and MS in Information Technology. The distance learning programs make it easy for students to attend class and balance work and their personal life.
Walden University MS: IT
MS: Info Systems Mgmt
MS: Info Systems
Walden University - Walden University is a massive online school regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and a member of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. It focuses on higher level programs like the MS in Information Technology or the MS in Information Systems that require no campus visitation in order to obtain the degree.
Liberty University MS: Info Systems Mgmt
MS: Cyber Security
Liberty University - Liberty University is the nation's largest Christian school and is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Liberty University is not a technical school although students can pursue related online degree programs like an MS in Information Systems Management or an MS in Cyber Security.

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